An expedition to Liberty comes up short.

Gnome on the Range 

An expedition to Liberty comes up short.

I have taken my share of liberties. I have cracked the Liberty Bell. I have stroked the Liberty Memorial. I have hooted from the balcony in Liberty Hall. And I'm even confident that I know the man who shot Liberty Valance.

But Liberty, Missouri, is another story.

About the only time I venture north of the river is to catch a plane, dump a body or piss on the van of an Indianapolis Colts fan (such as the one parked at Harrah's Casino the night before the Colts played the Chiefs last January).

The point is, I really don't know much about Liberty. So I was eager to give fate some fellatio when I heard about the New Musicians Showcase that the city of Liberty had scheduled for two consecutive nights at its performing arts center.

I suddenly had an opportunity to scout the Northland for untapped musical talent.

The event was free, but organizers had cautioned people to arrive early because the theater had room for only 700 people.


Only 700. I figured the place wouldn't draw 700 people if the featured entertainment were Donald Rumsfeld wearing a unitard and giving hand jobs to the members of the Polyphonic Spree, let alone 12 unknown, unproven acts. Plus, the six groups playing on Sunday night would be competing with the three-headed monster of the MTV Video Music Awards, The Simpsons and the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. But I was surprised to find the theater half-full.

A significant segment of the audience was made up of high school chicks wearing neon T-shirts with "Sugar Pill" written on the front and messages like "Flamingos swooping down from the sky" on the back.

Man, kids are doing a lot of crank these days.

The cryptic message suddenly became clear when the first act -- Ivy's Reach -- walked off the stage and was replaced by Sugar Pill, four teenage boys who wandered out of an American Eagle Junior catalog long enough to butcher a few Green Day riffs.

The Sugar babes dutifully squealed when the dreamy frontman sauntered to the microphone and said ...

"Testing, one, two."

The band members stumbled a bit when they got around to actually playing. But there was something vaguely endearing about them as they fumbled with their instruments and sang, sometimes in key.

And then it happened. The song.

Guitarist Austin Jacobs was cooing about something rustling in the bushes. Was it a kitty? It could be a kitty. But it had a beard. And a pointy hat.

Oh my god! Jacobs shouted. It's a gnome!

Yes, he said gnome. The song went on to describe an apocalyptic vision of garden gnomes attacking their owners in a bid to take over the world. The solution? Send in the pink lawn flamingos to fight the gnomes to the death.

Flamingos swooping down from the sky, Jacobs shrieked. Biting the gnomes in the eye.

Thank you, everyone, for coming tonight, but that's a wrap. The other acts on the bill couldn't hope to compete with a song about gnomes. But they tried anyway.

If you wondered what happened to Scott Stapp after Creed broke up earlier this summer, he's wearing bright-blue Western shirts and fronting a band from Liberty called Crush that's almost as cheesy as its name.

Actually, check that. Crush wasn't so bad. The group was also a little older, a little wiser and a whole fuck of a lot better musically than Sugar Pill as they emitted thundering, '70s-style rock.

The group's lead singer -- Stapp, or maybe just a body double -- had crammed ably for his Frontman 101 exam; he attempted to strut like Jagger, pose like Daltrey and whip windmills -- sans guitar -- like Townshend. But I doubt Mick, Roger or Pete got caught in the microphone cord nearly as often as this guy.

After that, the Matt Craig Band was proficient enough with singer-songwriter sap (and earned bonus points for having a guitarist named Bob Kaat-Wohlert -- meow!); solo vocalist Ana Colston had a strong, if short set; and the final act of the evening -- Simply Weasels -- earned its share of laughs with hokey parodies of country classics. But the night belonged to the gnomes, which helped Sugar Pill take home the top prize of $100.

I don't know which band won the overall competition's grand prize, but I don't really care.

I just want somebody to give me Liberty or give me death.


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